Basque Country

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Basque Country

Basque Country (băsk, bäsk), Basque Euzkadi, Span. País Vasco, comprising the provinces of Álava, Guipúzcoa, and Vizcaya (1990 pop. 2,159,701), N Spain, S of the Bay of Biscay and bordering on France in the northeast. The region includes the W Pyrenees and is bounded in the southwest by the Ebro River. It is crossed by the Cantabrian Mts. (In a wider sense the name also applies to other territories largely inhabited by Basques: Spanish Navarre and Basses-Pyrénées dept. in France.) Bilbao, capital of Vizcaya prov., is the largest Basque city and one of the chief industrial centers of Spain. Other cities include San Sebastián, capital of Guipúzcoa prov.; Vitoria, capital of Álava prov.; and historic Guernica. Although Basque was recognized as the official language of the region in 1978, most Basques speak French or Spanish. In the densely populated coastal provinces of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa the chief occupations are mining of iron, lead, copper, and zinc and metalworking, shipbuilding, and fishing. Álava is primarily agricultural; corn and sugar beets are grown, and wine and apple cider are made. Tourism is also important. Traditional Basque farming culture has given way to industrial development and emigration to France and the Americas.

For the history of the three provinces up to 1936, see Basques. Shortly after the outbreak of civil war in 1936 the Spanish government granted the three provinces autonomy. The Basque nationalist leader, José Antonio de Aguirre, was elected president of the autonomous government, but a large part of its territory was soon in insurgent hands. The fighting was over by Sept., 1937, and the new Franco regime abolished Basque autonomy. Basque nationalism remained strong, however, and the region achieved autonomy again in 1979, electing its first parliament the following year. In their campaign for Basque self-determination, the militant Basque Homeland and Freedom (Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna; ETA) has been responsible for much terrorism; a 1998–99 cease-fire by the ETA ended without a negotiated settlement. Political parties linked to the ETA have been repeatedly banned. In recent years the regional government has sought even greater autonomy. A plan for "free association" with Spain was passed by the region's parliament in 2004, but the plan was not approved by the Spanish Cortes. In Mar., 2006, the ETA announced a "permanent" cease-fire, and called for negotiations; the Spanish government agreed to talks three months later. A bombing in Dec., 2006, however, ended the chance for talks, and in June, 2007, the ETA ended its cease-fire. In Oct., 2007, the entire leadership of Batasuna, a party linked to the ETA, was arrested. In May, 2009, a regional government led by the Socialists took office; it was the first time since autonomy was restored that Basque Nationalists had not led the government. The ETA, under pressure from Basque separatist parties, announced a new truce in 2010, and then in 2011 said it had ended its armed campaign. The Basque Nationalists won a plurality in the 2012 regional elections.

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